Back pain, neck pain, muscle strain, muscle sprain, numbness, tingling, arm pain, leg pain, headaches, dizziness, and/or whiplash are all common problems that occur from car accidents. More symptoms that are related but not commonly associated with car accident are fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, depression, a feeling as if a truck ran you over and overall feeling bluh. These symptoms can happen with any car accident regardless of the damage to your vehicle. In my practice, I have seen marital fights and conflict occurring during the first few weeks after a marriage. Personally think those are relationships that are on the verge and the accident is simply the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’. With automobiles being the main form of transportation in the United States, it is no wonder that car accidents cause the most injuries and cause major concerns for most people.
How can I avoid getting in a car accident?
You would think this is a no brainer BUT think again. There are many who don’t wear their seatbelt only because they are backing the car to go a few yards!! or they have their own version of wearing their seatbelt!! Not across their shoulder but put the upper part of the seatbelt behind their back. DON’T DO THIS! If you are involved in a car accident while wearing the top of the seat belt behind your back, the force of the accident propels you forward and the lap belt of the seat belt can cut into your abdomen and cause internal bleeding and injure your internal organs.
Another thing I see people do while driving down the freeway is passengers who have their feet on the dash. I know it can be hard and uncomfortable to sit upright in the car seat especially if you are traveling for several hours. The problem when you have your feet is that at the time of an accident you can be shoved into the dashboard or the airbag deploys toward you forcing your legs into your chest. This force can shatter or result in multiple breaks in the bones of your feet, legs, and pelvis. If you are sitting upright in your seat with your feet on the floor it will help protect you from these extreme injuries.
Get rid of loose objects in your car or secure them away! Any kind of pens, sunglasses, coins, etc. can become projectiles during an accident. You can imagine how these items can potentially give you minor cuts and bruises. Before you put your car in drive, make sure all these items are secure.
The position of the seat should be upright with the height of the headrest adjusted so that the top of the headrest is level with the top of your head. Why is the headrest so important? The headrest is vitally important to help decrease the damage to your neck from a whiplash injury. There are a few incidents that the headrest did more damage but those are few and far in between.
What is a Whiplash injury?
When you are involved in a car accident, especially if you are rear-ended, you are placed at extreme risk for a whiplash injury. A whiplash injury is also known as an acceleration-deceleration injury but it does not have to be from a force directly from the back but sideways or front as well. When you are hit from behind, the impact accelerates your head forward while forcefully pulling and straining the joints and muscles in the back of your neck, head, and upper back. Once the acceleration has finished, you will experience a deceleration. This deceleration jerks your head and neck backward pulling and straining the joints and muscles in the front of your neck and chest. You can see why this injury creates extensive pain and damage. All of the structures in your neck and upper back can be damaged. Some of these structures include your joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. In side swipes or T-boned accidents, the force is more of a sideway or a combination of the side to side and front to back (or back to front) acceleration and deceleration. These combination injuries create more complex problems and potentially longer treatment time.
If you happen to see that a car accident is unavoidable, do your best to keep your head and your eyes straight forward and try to relax yourself. You are probably thinking that I am being unreal but do your best. In many car accidents that involve drunk drivers, the victims in the car that was hit by the drunk driver often suffer severe injuries or unfortunately, pass away. In contrast, the drunk driver will often walk away from the accident with little or no injuries. Why? The reason is that because the alcohol is inhibiting the drunk driver’s natural reflexes to tense up to brace for the impact of the accident. Therefore, if you can override the urge to tense and brace for the impact, and try to fully relax your muscles instead, you can help avoid more severe injuries.Watching an accident that is about to happen can cause more injuries because tight muscles are easier to strain. The neutral position helps your body to move in the direction that is more natural and avoids twisted injuries with related complex injuries. Also make sure that you are in a neutral position, meaning you do not have your arm resting on the door or that you are not leaning to the side against the console.
How can I get rid of my pain from my accident?
Being in a car accident and having symptoms from your injury can be life-changing, but it doesn’t have to be. Thankfully most people see Chiropractors for their car accident, however many times, not within the critical time span. This is important to avoid long-term problems such as Osteoarthritis which is the most common form of arthritis in the spine. In this blog, you can learn how it is developed.
How is car accident injuries treated?
There are 3 stages to treating car accident victims and the general protocol is as follows:
During this phase I use modalities such as Ultrasound and Electrical muscle stimulation promote blood flow to the area and to relax the shocked and tight muscles. I then use gentle chiropractic adjustment or use mobilization techniques to introduce movement to the joint as soon as possible. Mobilization is normal movement without you moving the joint. During this phase, I use and recommend ice to the patient. In this video I explain what an adjustment is.
TENS unit is my version of electronic pain killer which can be purchased on amazon or many other sites.
Depending on how the patient is injured and what my examination and x-rays (if it was needed), show, I may recommend stretching exercises for the neck right away or after a few visits. Since headaches is a common symptom seen with car accident patients, the stretchings are geared to address them. This video shows my favorite neck exercises that I recommend to all of my patients and do them myself.
During this phase, Ultrasound is not used but modalities such as Electrical Muscle Stimulation and neck or lower back traction units are used to ‘up the game’ and get the body ready for the next phase which is the rehabilitation phase. Chiropractic adjustments are a part of this phase and therapeutic massage is introduced to the patient. The types of stretching for the lower back and neck changes and depending on what is going on, I recommend stretching for any specific muscle that was injured directly as a result of the accident. Many times, knees or shoulders are involved so I recommend related exercises as well.
Active Release Technique or ART is a huge game changer which I start using after about 3 weeks into the treatment. A great example of what ART for the headaches looks like is shown in this video.
No matter why a patient comes to my office, I always review their use of pillow, evaluate if their pillow is thick or thin enough for the patient. See this video to see how to evaluate your own pillow:
Another point I make sure to review with all of my patients, car accident victim or not, is the work place ergonomics. You can use this checklist to maximize your work space and minimize injuries from it!
For car accident patients, this phase is very short lived! This is not because of my lack of dedication to my patients nor the patients injury requirement calling for a short rehab. phase. The only reason for this phase to be short is because car accident insurance companies are only interested in returning patient to their pre-accident state and that better be within 8-12 weeks regardless of how intense the accident was!!! To me that is not acceptable ethically speaking so in my office I always let the patient know and leave it up to them to want to get the proper length of treatment or limit their care by their insurance plan’s guidelines.
Typical rehab. exercises are designed to increase the involved joints’ range of motion and assure reasonable biomechanics (movement) of the joint is present. I start with band exercises and move to low weight dumbells. Once the patient is able to do the exercise correctly and has a reasonable range of motion, they are discharged of care.
Please note that this is the bear minimum treatment that is under the guideline of the involved insurance plans for car accident. It is absolutely essential to continue care to the medium and advance level of rehab phase to minimize the chances of structural damage and potential arthritic changes in the future.
We only have one body and we never know how long we live. The best question to always ask is if you are worth investing in yourself! You are the Designer and the Director of your own life so design and direct it the way you wish to live it.